At summer's peak it seems that nature rests. But that is not the case. Thousands of birds that have just completed their reproduction in northern and central Europe begin a journey of thousands of kilometres southwards. Many of these birds -particularly waterbirds and seabirds- pass through Galicia, providing us one of nature's most striking spectacles.

Galicia has one of the best vantage points on the continent

Galicia has one of the best vantage points on the continent - Estaca de Bares, the northernmost point of the Iberian peninsula that separates the Atlantic from the Bay of Biscay. Between August and September we can see thousands of seabirds from dozens of species continually travelling south. The frequent northern gannets are joined by common terns, arctic terns, sandwich terns and parasitic jaegers, among others. It is certainly one of the greatest migratory spectacles in Europe.

However, Estaca de Bares is not the only point from which to observe this phenomenon: many other capes along the Galician coast will offer the same possibility: Cabo Prior in Ferrolterra, Punta das Olas, near A Coruña, the Roncudo and Touriñán capes in Costa da Morte,  Corrubedo cape in the eponymous natural park and the Cabo Silleiro, are just a few good examples.

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Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus)
Great Skua (Catharacta skua)
Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni)
Sabine's Gull (Xema sabini)
Wetlands, especially coastal wetlands, swarm with winged life

There are dozens of species of waterbirds that, while travelling, make a stop there lasting for a few days or a few hours. The rivers and estuaries are good places to visit: the Rías de Ribadeo and Foz, the Ría de Ortigueira, the Ría do Burgo, the Ponteceso estuary on the Costa da Morte, the entire wetland area surrounding O Grove and the Miño estuary in A Guarda are outstanding places to observe wading birds such as eurasian curlews, whimbrels, dunlins, sanderlings, common ringed plovers, grey plovers, common redshanks, bar-tailed godwits and black-tailed godwits, among others.

The wetlands are also home to other species such as the western marsh harrier in migration or dispersed about. Special attention should be paid to rushes and reedbeds.

As in July, in mountain areas the concentrations of raptors, which look to take advantage of fleeting food sources, can be spectacular

As in July, in mountain areas the concentrations of raptors, which look to take advantage of fleeting food sources, can be spectacular. In the Macizo Central around the highest mountains of Os Ancares and Montes de Cervantes, Pena Trevinca and Serra do Eixe, O Courel and in the Serra do Suído there is a significant concentration of these birds: from common kestrels to common vultures and cinereous vultures.

A temporary phenomenon of extraordinary interest stars the lesser kestrel. It is a small raptor linked to human settlements and farm fields which is frequent in certain parts of the Iberian Peninsula but does not breed in Galicia. Seriously threatened just one decade ago, in recent years it has moved north after nesting to feed and gain weight from the insects that can still be found in the northernmost areas. They are here for a few short weeks and depart again southward to spend the winter in sub-Saharan Africa. We must pay close attention. They can be seen anywhere, although it is in the Serra dos Ancares and Montes de Cervantes or especially in A Veiga do Pumar in A Terra Chá where there are more chances that they will be seen.

Not to be missed

Aug
  • Coastal wetlands. Thousands of different species of waterbirds end up there: from the Rías de Ribadeo and Foz to the Miño estuary in A Guarda. It is important to use a telescope. In the estuarine ecosystems bird watching is best when the tide is rising, since that is when birds draw closer.
  • Coastal lagoons such as Xarfas in Louro are best visited late in the afternoon. Many birds, such as grey herons, little egrets and black-headed gulls gather in these wetlands to spend the night.
  • When visiting the Estaca de Bares it is important to know how the wind will blow. Winds from the north or northwest lead birds to stay closer to the coast and our sightings will be better. Also, with some luck we will be able to see less common species that generally stay further away from the coast.
  • For greater concentrations of raptors, we should visit the tops of mountains such as the Macizo Central, Os Ancares and Montes de Cervantes, Pena Trevinca and Serra do Eixe, O Courel, etc.
  • Not only are waterbirds and seabirds migrating. In virtually any place we can observe rare species or species that are only observable at this time of year, such as the spotted flycatcher or the willow warbler. To view them, a good idea is to walk in any riverside forest or in areas of countryside where there are well-preserved woods.
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